Just posted my race calendar for 2012 on the right hand side of the site —>
6/15 2.4mi Friday Night Swim Race : This race is just a tune-up and a motivating force to get me in the pool during the spring. I’d like to swim 1:10 or so for 2.4 miles, which will be faster than my time last year.
6/23 Pacific Crest Half-Ironman : I’ll be racing at a pace above my Ironman race pace, and testing out all the planned nutrition and gear I plan to use during Ironman Canada. My goal is to beat my time (5 hrs 9 mins) from 2002 when I did this race (and IM Canada) in the same year. I was a much faster runner and swimmer then but I am a faster cyclist now (and generally more experienced racer) so I have a shot at achieving the goal.
7/26: RAMROD (152mi Bike) : OK, this isn’t a race, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and after volunteering last year I’ve guaranteed myself a spot. The 152 mile bike route circles Mt. Rainer and features 10,000 feet of climbing and some of the most beautiful scenery the world has to offer. My goal for this is to finish, and eat a TON of pizza afterwards.
8/17 2.4mi Friday Night Swim Race : My only goal for this race is to swim faster than my time in June and do a great job drafting off others. Targeting a sub 1:10 swim.
8/26 Ironman Canada : This is my “A” race for the year, my big goal. 10 years I raced here in 12 hours 09 minutes, and my goal is to beat that time and go under 12 hours. Back then…I was a much faster swimmer/runner…but poor fueling strategy left me crippled during the last half of the run. This time around, with proper pacing and fueling I have a good shot at going sub 12.
In the fall I will do at least one more triathlon and then transition to running races. Depending on how healthy I feel, I’d like to do a 50K in October/November and give The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler a go.
Headed to Lake Stevens last Sunday for a half-ironman triathlon. The half-ironman distance is now being referred to as ‘70.3’ as this is the combined distance in miles of the swim/bike/run legs combined. I still like calling them half-ironman races since the term 70.3 doesn’t really mean much in my mind.
With just a couple of weeks of recovery from the White River 50, my legs were not sore but definitely were feeling tired in the lead-up to the race. My primary motivation for racing were to join a bunch of other athletes from my team, VO2 Multisport, and also to race what was sure to be a very scenic bike course (and one I rode in training a few weeks ago). The weather was also promising to be awesome, with temperatures in the 70’s with some cloud cover in the morning.
I like races where you can just roll up a few minutes – maybe an hour – before the start, register and go. This was NOT one of those races! By chance I was talking with a friend who was racing as well on Friday night (the race was on Sunday) and she mentioned that we needed to check in on Saturday. I had no clue since I hadn’t read any of the pre-race instructions yet, saving that task for the night before the race. Indeed, all athletes needed to make the drive up to Lake Stevens, check-in and drop off their bikes, then drive back up on race day! I drove up, took care of things and then returned back home for an early dinner, a short run and some stretching.
My race gear:
Swim: TYR Hurricane 5 wetsuit, Blue Seventy mirrored goggles, DeSoto 1-piece triathlon racing suit
Bike: Cervelo P3 w/ Williams Carbon Wheels (80mm deep), sunglasses (I didn’t end up using), race belt, Shimano shoes
Run: Brooks GTS Racer shoes, visor
My nutrition plan was:
Swim: nothing 🙂
Bike: 250 calories/hr (2 packs chomps and hammer gel flask with 5 gels), 2 endurolytes per hour; one bottle water per hour (it wasn’t very hot)
Run: 8 ounces of coke per hour; 8 ounces water per hour (at most….adjust depending on temperature)
My goal pacing was:
Swim: take it easy, 35 minutes.
Bike: stick to 140 watts on the first lap and 150 watts on the second (my FTP is 175 if you know what that means). this was a conservative plan, but again I wanted to be able to run strong. Shooting for 3 hours but the goal was to stick to the wattage plan and whatever time that resulted in would be fine. Hoped for a 3 hour or faster bike time.
Run: first 5K 8 min/miles; next 10K 7:45 min/miles; last 5K 7:30 min/miles or faster. Time of ~1:40 or so.
Total time: 5hrs 20mins (assume 2:30 transitions)
The swim went in waves – each with ~100 people. As such, the start was relatively calm. The course was simple, a long rectangle. There was also a wire running under the water (the buoys were tied to it) that you could follow to make sighting a non-issue. I never ended up seeing the wire once, since there were so many folks crowded around it. I just swam a little off to the side, and out of the crowds.
Sighting went well, floated in and out of drafts. At one point was kicked in the head pretty hard but shook that off and it didn’t slow me down much.With the wave start – was reeling in swimmers from previous waves. Came out of the water feeling good and had a feeling my time was decent (wasn’t sure of that, didn’t see a clock).
Started off the bike conservatively, letting my legs warm up and as usual a boatload of people past me. The course was a hilly 25 mile loop done twice (plus an out and back portion back to the transition area to make it a full 56 miles). I slowly built up to a steady pace, and closing out on my first loop, my power numbers were a little high (averaged 150 watts for the first lap). I wasn’t so worried about it since I felt very fresh and didn’t feel like I was pushing.
Throughout the bike I saw a bunch of friends who were also racing. Focused on nailing my nutrition and hydration and came off the bike with a time that was slower than expected, but my average watts were what I planned and my legs felt pretty fresh.
Came off the bike with 148 average watts (or so), averaged a little over 18mph with over 3 hours on the clock. Wasn’t so happy with the total time but other than that felt good.
Hit the porta potty and then started the run. Off the bike my feet (I’ve been battling plantar fascia issues for the past 5 months) hurt pretty bad. That was normal and I just took it easy for a couple of miles for my feet to loosen up. At one point, I stopped and took off my left shoe, convinced there was a rock in it…there was no rock…it was just the muscles in my feet all bound up! That stop cost me about 45 seconds.
After 20 minutes my feet relaxed and I was able to pick up the pace. My strategy of taking in 2-4 ounces of coke and then alternating with water at each aid station worked wonderfully well. I skipped a few aid stations since I felt well hydrated and didn’t want to overdo it. I am a huge fan of racing on Coke….the stuff is incredible and I’ve had no stomach issues using it for IMCDA, White River 50 or in this race.
The sun started to come out and I was dumping water on my head and staying cool, but felt good overall and after the first lap, picked up the pace a little. I also had to make a porta potty stop that cost me just over a minute of time. Next time I need to be sure about eating dinner earlier the night before and sticking to a liquid breakfast!
With about 5K to go, I picked up the pace again, running as hard as I could. With a mile to go I was really was going all out. I couldn’t have gone faster if a tiger was chasing me. I looked at my watch and realized that a sub 1:40 run split was possible if I really pushed. During the last few miles it became obvious to me that I should have pushed harder on the first lap. I left too much on the table again.
I cross the line totally exhausted but relieved to be done.
While I didn’t beat my time goal I was very close, and my splits were almost dead-on to what I wanted. Without my porta-potty stops (two of them) and my little shoe incident I would have been very close to my time goal.
The final score:
I learned a bunch of things in this race.
Pay attention to your meals the day before and morning of a race. I was very relaxed going into this race. Since my previous few races were longer (IMCDA and White River), I really was totally relaxed and not one bit nervous for this one. As a result, I didn’t pay as much attention to my pre-race nutrition plan. The porta potty stops were totally preventable by eating a lighter dinner earlier the day before and having a liquid breakfast.
At Ironman races they pass out skinny water bottles on the bike course, and these bottles slip right out of the bottle cage on my bike when I stand out of the saddle to climb! I never noticed this before, but lost two bottles due to this. I need to replace that downtube bottle holder with a Gorilla Cage.
I stuck to my wattage plan on the bike, but probably left 10 minutes (at least) on the table. I should have pushed harder on the bike. I don’t think that would have affected my run.
My first 10K on the run was too slow. I was being cautious, but I should have pushed the pace a little harder. I left a few minutes on the table there.
The White River 50 Miler was totally awesome. I signed up for the race many months ago, but the week prior if you asked me if I was going to run it, I would have laughed at you. I was dealing with a few injuries and still not recovered from Ironman CDA. However, a subtle but important mental shift made all the difference.
Instead of thinking about this as a race or some kind of extreme endurance event. I simply though about it as “just a fun day in the mountains.” I literally told myself this out loud. Good thing I live alone or my roommate would have thought I was psycho! Eventually, I came to truly believe what I was saying and I totally realized that doing the event was not only possible, but it could actually be sorta fun.
I also managed to give my friend Sean a little prodding…and he decided to run it as well (on practically no training!). It also helped that two good friends Charles and Jenny were also signed up to run. My game plan was to just go as far as I can without risking any major damage to my body. I was fully prepared to drop out if I thought I would injure myself.
The course was 44 miles of single-track trail (the other 6 miles are on a dirt fire road) in the pristine White River wilderness near Mount Rainier (in the hills surrounding Crystal Mountain Ski Resort). The views from the course are mind-boggling good. Many times I caught myself just staring off to the right or left – with epic views of Mt. Rainer and the Cascades.
Besides being gorgeous, the course is gnarly. In terms of sheer elevation gain and general course difficulty, it rivals the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon in my opinion. What makes CCUM a little tougher is not so much the course, but the weather (it was over 100 degrees in some parts of CCUM) and the general remoteness of the race and travel involved in getting there.
White River has ~10,000 feet of climbing split into two MASSIVE CLIMBS followed by crazy long descents.
I can’t overestimate these climbs. It felt like running up Mt Si (for those of you in Seattle you will know what I mean) and then some….and then running down about the same distance…then repeating that effort! For veteran ultra trail runners this might not seem like a ton, but for me it was.
Sean’s blog has a great image comparing the White River course to the Boston Marathon with its infamous “Heartbreak Hill” that is worth checking out.
I’ll break down the race into Pre-Race, Race, Post Race and Lessons Learned.
Found a last minute room for the race at the Crystal Mountain resort. It was a few miles from the start line, and right where race registration and other pre-race stuff was happening. Very convenient!
My gear (pictured below) was pretty basic. With weather predicted in the mid-70’s to low-80’s and sunny, I was planning to wear a t-shirt (North Face Flight Series) and shorts (Nike running shorts) along with a visor and sunglasses (they sat on top of my head most of the day since the course was mostly shaded). I wore my Inov-8 Roclite 295’s for the first 37 miles (hilly and gnarly trail) and Brooks GTS Racers for the final 13 miles (downhill and flat/smooth trail).
Fueling Strategy (250 calories per hour). I wanted to stick to simple food and get most of my calories in via gel to prevent any stomach issues and maximize absorption. Some people want sandwiches and real food (cookies, chips, etc) during these race (and the aid stations are stocked with this stuff!) but I try to stick to simple sugars. I fueled on:
Hammer Gel (in flasks, run with 1 flask and the rest in drop bags). I went through 15 servings of Hammer Gel along with 3 GU packs from aid stations.
GU Chomps (in drop bags). I went through 6 bags of chomps.
Hammer Endurolytes (2 per hour – more if sunny/hot)
Cola (after 37 miles – provided on course). I consumed about 32 oz of cola in the last 2 hours.
Coconut water (in drop bag at 32 mile point). I consumed an entire 32 oz Zico container.
Banana pieces (at aid stations). I consumed 4-5 pieces.
The course has a ton of aid stations, with the options for dropbags at a bunch (like 6-8 places) along the course. Still, it was recommend that runners use two handheld bottles (or the equivalent) to get them through longer stretched. I wore an Amphipod 22oz handheld and a waist-belt with two 10oz Amphipod bottles and a pouch to carry GU Chomps and Endurolyte tablets. I was very happy with this approach.
I used three drop bags. In each I placed 2 packs of GU Chomps, in 2 of them I had spare socks (only ended up changing socks once), and in the last drop bag I had a different pair of shoes (a pair with more cushion for the long 6 mile descent after the second climb – around 37 miles in). I also had a liter of coconut water in a drop bag…that I snagged at around 32 miles in (halfway up the second climb).
The race featured all kinds of cool (and random) swag….in addition to a t-shirt and socks, we got a drink “cozie,” a pen, an umbrella and a trucker hat (at the finish)! Much of the swag was provided by SCOTT sports, who sponsored the event.
The pre-race meeting was held in a small bar right in the little lodge/hotel we were staying at. Pretty cool vibe. A lot of people seemed to have already run the course at least a few times. With around 300 entrants (240-something actually ran), this was the biggest field yet.
Ate a massive pasta dinner at the pre-race carbo load and hit the sack early to prepare for the 6:30am start. Both Sean and I decided to forgo the “early start”..convinced that we wouldn’t need to worry about hitting the time cut-offs…we had 13 hours to finish the course officially (14 hours with an early start). I ended up regretting this decision later on during the day. More on this later!
After hitting the porta potty and getting drop bags in their appropriate spots, I headed to the race start – a dirt road along a flat mid-forest airstrip for small aircraft (a giant grass field). I positioned myself towards the middle of the pack, along with my friends.
Miles 1-4 to Aid Station #1 @ Camp Sheppard: I trotted along with my friends, and the whole field was just running in a giant pace-line it seemed. I kept my eyes on the trail and the shoes in front of my as we meandered along pretty flat and winding trail. The pace was totally slow and comfortable – on purpose! In one spot there was a downed tree to climb up and over, but overall this trail was pretty straightforward. I almost tripped about a dozen times….and realized I needed to really pay attention to the trail and not zone out. We rolled through the first aid station around 4 miles in – I topped off a water bottle and carried on. The whole time I focused on taking in Hammer Gel and staying relaxed.
Miles 4-12 to Aid Station #2 @ Ranger Creek: This stretch of trail begins flatish…then the first mountain climb of the course begins! Over a six-mile stretch we climb almost 3000 feet! If you aren’t sure if that is a lot or not…let me just say that it is. It’s like climbing more than the height of Mt. Si (Seattle-ites will know what I mean). I focused on nutrition and hydration, power hiking any of the uphill portions and running short stretches of flatish trail throughout the climb. I was right next to Sean for most of this portion of the run and he kept me entertained (as well as another runner) a very long joke that took like an hour to tell 🙂 .
Miles 12-17 to Aid Station #3 @ Corral Pass: Think the first climb was done? No way! The first couple miles of this stretch continue climbing for another 400 feet, then it flattens out to a rolling section along Corral Pass. Epic views of Mt Rainier and lush valleys almost make the pain go away. There is an out and back section here where you get to see where the competition is. During this stretch I felt quite good, running most of it. I saw some more friends, including Barefoot Ted during the out-and-back portion. There was some snow on the course, but they did such a great job building snow steps and putting in some fixed lines that it wasn’t much of an issue. My Inov-8 Roclite 295’s did an amazing job keeping me firmly grounded.
Miles 17-22 Aid Station #4 @ Ranger Creek: We continue the out-and-back portion of the trail, and then begin a long descent…6.8 miles on a single track trail! At first it was a relief to be running downhill. After a mile this thought changed as my legs were starting to totally fry. I took a few short walk breaks on the downhill to let my feet/quads recover.
Miles 22-27 Aid Station #5 @ Buck Creek: The downhill continues and at times Sean and I wonder if we are off trail or something. There aren’t many other runners around and it seemed crazy to run downhill this long. Well, it is crazy to run downhill this long, but we were not off trail! Eventually…..we hit flat ground, thank goodness, and emerged near the race start area to take on more aid. I felt better after a few miles of flat ground, and Sean pulled ahead of me a bit so I was pretty much on my own here. Felt fine overall and started to mentally prepare for the second mountain climb to come – which is over 8 miles long!
Miles 27-32: Aid Station #6 @ Fawn Ridge: After a few miles of flat terrain, we began to climb. I caught up with Sean and my friends Charles and Jenny also caught us. We power hiked together up the mountain. This mountain was a little shorter than the last one, but steeper! After taking aid – and refilling my water bottles with coconut water from my drop bag (it’s amazing stuff…need to do this again next time, and at my next Ironman race) I powered through and kept climbing. I felt good and decided to push a little harder, breaking away from my friends and pushing up the climb. At this point time-wise I was a little nervous of the aid station cut-offs. We were about 1 hour ahead of the aid station cutoff time at this point….this race really had a pretty aggressive required pace to avoid being pulled from the course. Maybe I should have taking the early start after all? This would have given an extra hour of cushion to finish. Oh well…nothing I can do about that right now.
Miles 32-37 Aid Station #7 @ SunTop: Does this climb ever end? It went on and on and on and on. At one point some mountain bikers passed me and I asked how much further and they said “you’re almost there…maybe a mile at most.” Total Liars!!!! 🙂 That climb kept going for eons. I powered through, eventually emerging on Sun Top, enjoying the epic views of the mountains and downing some watermelon, filling my shirt and hat with ice and changing my shoes into a more cushioned road shoe (Brooks GT Racers). I was still over an hour ahead of the aid station cut-off. The next 6 miles would feature a long downhill on a dirt road. At this point, I really did feel relieved since I knew that I would finish the race no matter what.
Miles 37-43 Aid Station #8 @ Skookum Flats: I knew this part of the course would be challenging for me. I’ve been battling Plantar Fasciitis since CCUM and while it wasn’t affecting me so far, this long downhill on a dirt road was scary. I started running down the hill, and after half a mile had to stop. My feet felt like they were going to explode. Over the course of the next few miles I did more walking than running, and tons of people passed me. Fitness really didn’t mean anything at this point….my feet just couldn’t handle the pounding. At points I was walking backwards to take the pressure off my feet. Sean caught up with me and we made it down to the end of this segment together, as he was also battling some IT band issues.I again started to worry about missing the cut-off time for the next aid station.
Miles 43-50 TO THE FINISH! Once we hit the aid station at Skookum flat, Sean waved goodbye and hammered the final stretch in a successful attempt to break 12 hours. I loaded up my water bottles with Coke, and walked the first 1/2 mile along the flat and well cushioned trail. By this time my feet had recovered and stopped throbbing, so I started running. I felt better and better every mile so I picked up the pace, reeling in many runners that passed me during the long downhill. After a seemingly endless 7 miles, I emerged onto a road and gave it everything I had for the last quarter-mile into the finish.
Final Time =12hrs 13mins 54secs (201/244 runners).
What I love about ultras is the everyone just seems to hang around for a long time at the finish. Even with my late finish, all the athletes were still there, including the top finishers (many of whom congratulated me and the other finishers!). This kind vibe is unique to the sport. There was a great potato bar with tons of toppings and other food for refueling.
The first thing I did upon finishing was take off my shoes and sit down. My feet were so sore I could hardly walk, but the rest of me (my legs in general) felt surprisingly good! I’m looking forward to getting this plantar fascia problem solved. Even the next day, my feet were the most sore part of my body. My legs recovered surprisingly quickly – though I still feel like am a little more tired than normal during hard training sessions – and it has been a couple of weeks since the race. It will probably take a full month to feel 100% normal.
Barefoot Ted once told me that running 100 mile is like living a lifetime in a single day – with all of its ups and downs. I’ve never done a 100 miler, but I can say 50 miles of running/power hiking has that kind of feeling and definitely takes you to places you don’t go in typical daily life. All kind of emotions come up unexpectedly. I went from feeling pretty darn depressed at mile 38 to feeling re-energized and ready to rock and roll by mile 45. Things go from bad to good to worse to amazing – sometimes in the course of 10 miles! Knowing that things will get better when you feel like crap is powerful knowledge and can power you through some really tough times. This great quote I blogged a few weeks ago came to mind several times during the run:
Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn -Harriet Beecher Stowe
I witnessed the power of staying present to what was around me, and not getting caught in any kind of negative self-talk. Staying positive is absolutely critical. At one point in the race (around mile 32), I was hiking with a man who had done the race several times and was a veteran ultra-runner. He was talking constantly, and often just complaining about stuff and generally not being positive. After 10 minutes I had enough, and pushed ahead fast to get away from him and his negativity! Staying upbeat when positive is that important when you are pushing that hard.
In terms of nutrition and fueling, when all else fails – really nailing nutrition is so important and can help you finish a race that you have no business finishing 🙂 . I made a nutrition plan, stuck to it – and had no issues with digestion or hydration. I also learned that coconut water is like liquid gold during a hot race and coke is jet fuel and worth drinking plentifully during the final couple hours of a long event.
My last lesson is that conventional wisdom – the kind that says you need to run a lot and be super healthy to run an ultra – is totally wrong. I came into the race with a bum knee and feet, but did what I could to get healthy before the race and approached it with the attitude of just enjoying the day in the mountains and seeing what would happen. Things ended up working out for the best – but I was fully prepared to drop out if my health was at risk.
I think a lot of people can complete these kind of events – and they should not let someone else tell them they haven’t trained enough or aren’t ready for it. If you really want it bad enough you can do it. I am totally convinced that any reasonably fit human being can complete a 50 miler with a marginal amount of training. Just go into the challenge with a positive mindset.
I’m very thankful to have finished and the experience was incredible. I learned far more from this race than I have in other races that I was actually able to “race.” I learned that we are really able to accomplish more than we think we can. I also learned that we are capable of going from feelings of total despair to optimism in a matter of minutes…if you are just willing to endure a little.
This is my third Ironman finish, and not my fastest time but I am actually most of proud of this result. A few weeks ago I didn’t even think I’d be able to race. I was just planning on doing the swim. However, a couple of weeks ago I decided to give it a shot after my doctor told me that my knee wouldn’t have any permanent damage to it if I decided to race.
The inflammation in my knee might “hurt like hell” but it wouldn’t cause any tears or breaks….so I got the green light. Mentally, this made all the difference as it just became a game of pacing and seeing how I could manage my energy during the day and keep the pressure off my left knee.
It was also great to have over a dozen people from my team, VO2 Multisport, racing and spectating. It makes all the difference to know people who will be out on the course. It can provide motivation that keeps you going for miles and miles, just knowing someone will be there expecting to see you.
Here’s how it all went down:
I arrived at in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on Thursday around 5pm. My accommodations were SUPER DELUXE. I mean that. They were THE BEST ACCOMMODATIONS EVERY. You see, I am a Product Planning Lead at Microsoft by day, but by night in my personal life I do practically no planning WHATSOEVER. The week before the race I still hadn’t sorted out where I would stay. Browsing the interwebs I came across a nondescript ad with no photo mentioning an “RV” trailer available. I gave the guy a call and he seemed super nice and sent me some photos. SCORE! The place was awesome, cheap and located on an acre of lawn less than 1/2 mile from the race start! The perfect spot. The owner also had this super cool golden lab that I got to play around with.
I dropped my bike and gear off in the RV and went down to the race start area, which is a beach right in downtown. Immediately I saw at least 30-40 triathletes swimming or hanging around the beach or lawn. Many had just gotten done swimming and everyone was talking about how cold and choppy the water was.
I threw on my wetsuit and dropped in for a 20 minute swim. It was frigid! Even coming from swimming Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish it was cold. The chop was also very bad. I got out of the water and definitely feeling like the swim would NOT be the cake-walk I was expecting.
My original race plan called for an hour-long bike ride, but given that it was getting late, I went to get some dinner and hit the sack early for the night after sorting out my gear.
I did a short 30 minute bike ride along and out and back section to Higgins Point along the edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene. I was very cold at 8am, and I was biking in toe-covers, a warm jacket and leg warmers. I was thinking that I should re-assess my race uniform and wear a long sleeve shirt on the bike. I went out and bought a cheap one at a local sporting goods store for $15. I planned on wearing it for 20-30 miles on race day until it warmed up and them taking it off.
The rest of the day entailed registering for the race and walking around the Race Expo. The were all kinds of interesting bikes on display and other gadgetry.
In the evening I headed out to a VO2 Multisport member’s home for a dinner with a bunch of people. It was nice to catch up with people and gorge on pasta, salad and cookies! For those of you thinking of racing a marathon or triathlon, remember that the key carbo-load dinner is NOT the night before the race…it is two nights before! This given the food time to digest and get into your muscles.
Saturday morning starting with a mini race-rehearsal with the VO2 Team. We all met at 9am and did (more or less) a 10-20 minute swim, 30-45 min ride and 10-20 minute run. My workout was on the low-end of the scale. The water was feeling a little warmer and it wasn’t very choppy.
After the rehearsal I ate some lunch and gathered my gear bags to check-in. At an Ironman race, you check in your Bike and Swim-Bike and Bike-Run bags the day before the race. You can put other things in them on race morning but this ensures that there are no lines/bottlenecks on race-day.
Swim: Tyr Hurricane Wetsuit, Aquasphere goggles and two swim caps. I wore two caps for extra warmth. I wore a Timex Ironman Watch during the entire race as well.
Swim/Bike Bag: Bike shoes with toe covers (I kept these on the whole ride), helmet, sunglasses, 2 packs of GU Chomps, 1 gel flask with 500 calories of gel, 1 tube of endurolytes tablets for electrolytes.
Bike: 2010 Cervelo P3 w/ Williams Aero Wheels (80 MM deep wheels) + PowerTap. I used an XLAB bottle cage off the pack and XLAB food pouch near the head tube to store my endurolytes and GU Chomps.
Bike special needs bag: 2 packs of GU Chomps, 1 gel flask, 1 GU packet
Bike/Run Bag: Brooks Racer shoes, gel flask with 500 calories (I didn’t use it), visor
Run special needs bag: 2 GU Chomps, 2 GU gel packets (I didn’t use any of this stuff)
Other Run Gear: I used my watch to take splits for the first half-marathon at every mile. After that, I stopped caring about time and just focused on finishing 🙂 .
As per my race plan, my fueling strategy was simple and focused on pure sugar (no protein consumption) and plenty of water:
Consume 300 calories per hour on the bike. Use a mix of Hammer Gel and GU Chomps.
Consume 2 Hammer Endurolytes per hour on the bike (more if it was getting hot).
Consume 1-2 bottles per hour on bike (1 if cool, 2 if hot – I ended up consuming 1 bottle/hr).
Consume 2-4oz of Coke and few sips of water/ice at every aid station on the run.
Sunday: Race Day!
I slept surprisingly well in the RV, and the three alarms I had set assured a swift 4am wake-up. I ate a cliff bar and drank a bottle of water (with Nuun) and laid around until 5am. I gathered my things and walked the 1/2 mile to a coffeshop for a small Americano, and was at the transition area by 6am.
I went to my transition bags and put some more stuff in them, then found a spot on the grass and did some light stretching. It was funny to see people already wearing their wetsuits at 6:15am! 45 minutes is a long time to be sitting around in neoprene.
I did some push-ups and yoga to warm up, and donned my wetsuit by 6:40am and joined the masses on the beach. It was a HUGE swim start. 2500 people is a lot of people! My last ironman had 1600 people and this felt far bigger I decided to position myself towards the front and in the middle of the crowd. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck behind a bunch of slower swimmers.
The Swim: …a Combat Sport
Promptly at 7am the gun went off and all hell broke loose. People were incredibly aggressive in the swim, which amazed me given how long a day it would be. I was punched by a half-dozen different people, grabbed by several and dunked by one – all in the first 500 yards. I swam fairly conservative and at one point actually swam to the outer edge of the pack to find some calmer water.
In retrospect I should have placed myself more towards the far side of the beach, and stood a few rows further back.
The swim course was two loops around a big rectangle, making all left turns. The first left turn was nuts since you had a very wide pack of swimmers all attempting to converge and make a tight corner.
I kept my pace controlled, and aside from worrying about getting kicked or pulled, stayed calm and my breathing was controlled the entire time.
I emerged from the first lap in 35 minutes, did a short run on the beach and jumped back in for my second lap.
The second lap was far calmer, and I focused on drafting and staying relaxed. Coming out of the water, there was a short run along the beach into the transition area.
Time = 1:16:35. I expected my swim to be 1:05-10 and my last swim at IMCDA in 2003 was 1:01. 1:16 was surprisingly slow but the day was long and I wasn’t worried too much about it.
I ran into transition and had my wetsuit stripped (yes, they have wetsuit strippers at these races! You sit on the ground and they yank it off), grabbed my transition bag and headed into the changing tent. One mistake I made was to not wear my racing uniform (a 1 piece DeSoto triathlon uniform) under my wetsuit. Putting this on took FOREVER and it kept getting stuck on my arms and legs. At least 5 minutes were lost here. Amazing how slow you move when your body is freezing. My total T1 time was 8 minutes or so….which is a LOT of time.
The Bike: Staying Relaxed
The bike was the biggest wildcard of this entire race. I knew deep down that if I could make if through the bike I would finish the race. I know how to gut out a marathon even if it means power walking it. My knee was the biggest factor. I hadn’t tested it with a ride over a few hours in several months, and really didn’t know what would happen.I had an amazing knee tape job (with kineseo-tape) by a PT before the race. This ended up being a huge help.
My strategy was to race with my powermeter as a guide. This device basically measure wattage produced and with appropriate testing during training, can give an indication of how hard or easy you should it. During an Ironman race, the goal for me is to ride steadily at 70-75% of the watts that I could hold for 1 hour during a time trial (this is 175 watts). Based on previous testing I had done, this meant I needed to keep my power between 122-132 watts for the entire race. On uphills this means I need to spin in an easy gear and take it easy, and push hard on the downhills and flats instead of coasting. Given the issues with my knee, I decided to go even easier, and stay between 118-125 watts. If I felt good, I would pick it up for the second loop of the 2 loop bike course. WISHFUL THINKING as this didn’t end up happening.
Starting the ride I felt quite good. A little cold, but it warmed up quickly and I didn’t need to wear arm-warmers or a long sleeve shirt, but was glad I had my toe-covers on. There were so many athletes on the course that everyone was pretty much riding in a single ginormous pack for the first 30 miles or so! Since my bike ride is comparatively slower than my swim, people were passing me almost the entire time on the bike course.
After about 90 minutes of riding, my fueling strategy was working well. Gel and chomps with water. I took 2 endurolytes per hour. It wasn’t very hot but since Hammer Gel doesn’t have sodium, I took the endurolytes anyway.
After about two hours I started feeling my knee. It was a dull ache and I intentionally slowed to keep it from flaring up. After three hours, the pain got worse, almost like a stabbing pain on the medial side of my knee. It was really worried at this point. I tried adjusting my bike position and stretching while riding by it wouldn’t go away.
After 50 miles of riding, on my way back into town to start the second loop of the race, I was certain that I would need to drop out. I couldn’t fathom riding another 56 miles with this kind of pain.
Riding by the transition area, for some reason I don’t really know….I decided to just keep pedaling for another 10 miles to see what happened.
One think I have learned from racing a few ultra-marathons over the past year, is just when you think things cannot possibly get any worse….they don’t….and they actually start getting better!
Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn -Harriet Beecher Stowe
The road was pretty flat and I focused on pedaling more with my right leg (which felt fine) instead of my left. I kept riding in this way and eventually (after 70 miles) the pain subsided almost completely!
I really cannot explain why this happened, but my knee basically felt numb (like I had iced it) and the pain was gone. I continued to ride and aside from some stiffness in my lower back and neck, felt OK through the remainder of the 112 mile course. Every 20 minutes I would stand and do some “cat and cow” yoga poses while riding to loosen up my back.
My second lap was much slower, not much I could do about that. On the plus-side my nutrition was spot-on and I came off the bike feeling totally fine. Measurements from my power meter:
My first lap took 3:12 @ 120 average watts (140 normalized)
My second lap took 3:32 @ 108 average watts (126 normalized)
Total bike time was ~6:45 @ 114 average watts (133 normalized)
The Run: more like a “shuffle”
My transition was pretty quick, and I walked out of transition (intentionally) for about 200 yards and then started a slow jog. I felt very good and came through the first mile in 8:50 – which was far too fast. I was planning to hit 10 minutes miles for the first half of the run (including walking every aid station) and then run 9 min/miles for the second half.
The next few miles also came through around 9 min/mile pace and I forced myself to slow down to around 9:30-10min/mile pace with brief walk breaks at each aid station.
Here’s how the run went down (2 loops of a 13.1 mile course):
Miles 1-3: Felt really great and ended up going out a little too fast.
Miles 3-10: Felt good still, fueled completely on Coke (at each aid station) with a little water. Pace slowed a little to 10 min miles. Coke is amazing and I’m glad I started drinking it right away on the run.
Miles 10-13.1: Starting to feel more tired, but still able to jog and took short walk-breaks between aid stations.By the time I hit the half-way point I knew I would finish the race no matter what which was a huge relief.
Miles 13.1-20: Painful! I ended up walking 2/3’s of this section. It was really tough. My knee didn’t bother me at all really, my legs were just totally dead and the bottoms of my feet were super sore from all the pounding. I never knew it was possible to run so slow…it’s called the “Ironman Shuffle”…I was barely picking my feet of the ground…but still moving faster than a walk – so it counts as running! The pic below is photographic evidence of what a “shuffle” looks like.
Miles 20-26.2: I ended up seeing some team-mates, and also a friend that was competing. This gave me a big boost and I ran about half of this stretch. It was slow but at least I ran!
The last few miles of the run were impossibly hard. You’d think having run 50 miles just a few months ago I could at least jog the last 5K in, but it was impossible. I jogged about 400 yards and walked for 30 seconds….repeat, repeat, repeat. I ran the last half-mile, and took the time to make sure noone was around me so I could get a good finish picture 🙂
The marathon ended up being an over 5 hour affair, not the 4 hours I planned. Whatever, I finished and am happy with that!
Bellevue WA USA
2.4 mi. (1:16:35)
BIKE SPLIT 1: 34.2 mi
34.2 mi (1:56:07)
BIKE SPLIT 2: 90.2 mi
56 mi (3:27:22)
BIKE SPLIT 3: 112 mi
21.8 mi (1:20:36)
112 mi (6:44:05)
RUN SPLIT 1: 6.6 mi
6.6 mi (1:02:51)
RUN SPLIT 2: 13.4 mi
6.8 mi (1:14:25)
RUN SPLIT 3: 19.5 mi
6.1 mi (1:29:43)
RUN SPLIT 4: 26.2 mi
6.7 mi (1:25:41)
26.2 mi (5:12:40)
After finishing, I spent some time talking with a friend who also just finished, got a post-race massage, grabbed pizza and found grass to lay in. I stayed in that spot for a good 30 minutes – totally catatonic! I felt surprisingly good but didn’t want to move. Eventually I got up, got my bags and bike, and headed back to my RV where I showered, took a short nap and then headed back to the race finish to cheer on the final athletes who finished between 11pm and midnight. The energy during the last hour of an Ironman is ABSOLUTELY INSANE! It is inspiring to see what people are able to do and all walks of life crossed that line…old, young and all shapes and sizes.
I am convinced that the key to racing Ironman (or any endurance race) is STAYING HEALTHY!
All the fancy gear and training is worthless unless you are healthy enough to race comfortably. Nutrition and pacing strategies also matter but I’m really coming away from this race experience with a new appreciation for how important it is to be healthy come race day. In the future if I have to decide between training more and doing some PT/therapy/yoga or self-care to heal my body…I know what I am going to choose. There is also a whole bunch of exercises I’ll be doing to strengthen my joints/soft tissue to prevent future injury.
First priority is to get my knee 100% healthy and also remedy the plantar fascia issues that I’ve had since the Copper Canyon race in March. I want to do another Iron-distance race this year to take advantage of the fitness I’ve built up and there are a few events I have my eye on, more to come on that.
I really had to dig deep this time. The swim went well and I didn’t push too hard given the length of the day ahead. With almost 2,500 athletes in the water it was VERY aggressive and I was getting punched, kicked and dunked every few minutes. I came out of the water 5-10 minutes slower than expected.
The bike ride was OK, and again had to keep the pace slow to keep my knee from flaring up. I was really concerned about even being able to finish the race. After 50 miles on the bike I really didn’t think I would finish, as my knee was really hurting and I just focused on pedaling with my right (pain-free) leg.
Since there was nothing I could do about in the moment, I just stopped thinking about it and after another 20 miles it sorta became numb and the pain was just a dull ache instead of a short-stabbing pain that usually happens, totally bearable.
The run was humbling. Normally my strong suit, after having not put in many miles running or biking in the past 10 weeks on account of injury, I was only able to slowly jog the first 13 miles (around 9:30 min/mile pace) before walking/shuffling the last 13 miles. My knee didn’t cause me too much trouble during the run, my legs were just totally dead overall.
Finishing, however, made me happy and accomplished my goal!
I can’t believe that not even 6 weeks ago I wrote this, essentially giving up all hope of being able to race. At the time it was painful to walk and the thought of doing an Ironman was laughable. My lesson in all this is that sometimes listening to your body’s aches and pains and giving yourself a total rest is the right thing, and other times it’s about getting the FULL STORY on what is actually going on.
In my case, some amazing doctors, a great coach and knowledgeable friends helped me pin-point the issue, treat it and come up with a plan that had a good chance of working…and it did work!
Today featured a morning “race rehearsal” swim (10mins) / bike (15 mins) / run (10 mins) followed by copious amounts of sitting around and not doing much. At an Ironman race, you also drop off all your gear the day before the race, including your bike and both transition bags with bike/run gear. I did that between naps.
For fun, I also drove the “Hayden Loop” of the bike course. This route is fairly technical with plenty of short climbs, sharp turns and some curved roads that you can cruise through with plenty of speed if you are aware of how the road carries through the corners.
As per my race plan I had a pasta dinner (at 6pm) and will be up at 4:30 for breakfast and down at the race site before 6am. We enter the beach at 6:30am and the cannon (or gun or horn or whatever they use) goes off at 7am. Over 2,500 athletes are here. The swim start will be EPIC!
Just returned home from a 4 day Ironman CDA training camp with VO2 Multisport. As much as I like doing my training solo, it is really nice to get in with a group now and then.
I trained far harder and longer and “smarter” than I would have on my own. By smarter I mean that I was really adhering to a better routine of nutrition both during and before/after exercise. This is needed with long training days back to back.
I also paid better attention to pacing – more specifically – while biking, making sure to go easy on long hills and push the downhills instead of just coasting. This is a good strategy to conserve energy while maintaining overall speed during a long race.
I think groups can provide positive peer pressure in this way. I also learned a ton of tips and tricks from talking with the other 8 campers, some of whom have done many Ironman’s and some of whom are shooting for their first with Ironman CDA on June 26th, 2011. This will be my 3rd Ironman.
Looking forward to the race just a few months from now.
I shouldn’t call this a race report since the objective was less about racing and more about experiencing the culture and the beauty of the Copper Canyon region of Mexico. Arriving at the starting point of the race involved 2 flights, a 2+ day ride in a van and an 18 mile rugged and hot hike down into the canyon town of Urique. The days prior to the race were filled with intense hikes and general overload of the senses with a new language (Spanish) new food (quintessential mexican) and new people (both Urique locals and Tarahumara Indians). I ended up finishing the event, which was my goal. It took me 12.5 hours, far longer than I hoped – but I don’t care too much about that. Crazy and unexpected things can happen after pushing the human body for many hours.
I had an amazing time and plan on returning next year. If you are at all considering doing an ultramarath0n or even visiting the Copper Canyons – I highly recommend it. I felt totally safe the entire time, and see that much of what I had read in the news about violence and killings and foreign travelers being at risk was overblown. Do your homework before going, but also recognize that the popular media is really good at creating attention grabbing headlines that aren’t always indicative of reality.
Day 1: There are many ways to get to Urique Canyon. My method was definitely not the fastest, but it was cost-effective, safe and made for a good chance to meet other interesting people. I flew into El Paso and stayed overnight at a Motel 6 with another racer that I met online. The hotel was clean and safe, and 12 of us were all meeting here to board a van driven by Doug “Diego” Rhodes, who operated a hotel near Urique and served as a guide to visiting gringos. The next morning we awoke to the sight of a large white van parked outside. We immediately wandered out to meet our fellow adventurers. It was exciting to meet the people we would be spending the 10 days with! Everyone was super cool, including a large contingent from Seattle, two people from Ohio, one from California, three from Utah and one from new Mexico. Amazingly, it turned out that 4 people in the van were vegan!
Day 2: We headed south and immediately crossed the border uneventfully (there is rarely much traffic heading south, but always traffic coming back to the US). Heading through Juarez was not a big deal. It’s been tagged as “the most dangerous city in the world” by popular media but it seemed just fine. We past plenty of trucks filled with armed guards, humvees and dudes with machines guns on the streets (military) – but I didn’t see this as much different from other places I’ve been to in South America (Lima or Quito in particular). Diego made sure we moved swiftly through the city.
We departed Juarez after a quick stop to exchange money and continued heading south through a flat and windy desert, stopping in the small town of Cuatemoc for the night. The next day we continued driving to Diego’s hotel…which is more like a ranch. It’s in a beautiful part of the country, with rolling hills pierced by rocky cliffs, pine tree forests, bright blue skies all the time and an elevation of 6000 feet. Here we met Caballo Blanco himself! Caballo is the race director and all around supporter of the Raramuri people (also know as Tarahumara, Raramuri is their traditional name), he would be our guide into the canyon and make sure everything was cool leading up to the race. He is an incredibly genuine and nice dude.
Day 3: The next day we had an off-day, and we welcomed some additional travelers joining us at the ranch. All-told, 27 gringos’ met up at Diego’s place! In the morning I led a yoga class to help get us loosened up. Various groups spent then spent the day exploring. My group went on an adventure that had us hiking and scrambling up the side of a mountain near the ranch. We hit the summit where there was a large flat plateau and started running! We explored a bit and eventually spotted a trail that descended the other side of the mountain toward a small town. We took the trail and made it down into the town, and returned back to Doug’s place via a dirt road. In the afternoon. A few of us went out on another hike to visit Tarahumara burial caves, complete with lots of human bones.
Day 4: After lots of food and a night’s rest, we prepared for our departure to Urique, which required an 18 mile hike up and over a mountain ridge, and down-down-down 5000 feet into the heart of the Copper Canyon. Our luggage would meet us in Urique via van. All 27 of us loaded up on tons of water and food and proceeded on the hike. It was gorgeous, one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. We spotted hawks, buzzards and wandered close to some “grow fields” if you know what I mean. The temperature rose sharply through the hike – well into the 90’s. The trail was at times steep and made of loose slippery rock pieces and dirt. The adventure had begun!
After 13 miles we hit a part of the trail where Caballo let us loose to run the rest of the way into town if we wanted. It was another 5 miles or so, and a bunch of us took off. It was a tough run for me. I was super dehydrated from the heat and my legs had absolutely no energy. I trotted along slowly and eventually made it into town. The first night I stayed at Entre Amigos, run by a gringo named Keith, with about 10 other racers. It was a gorgeous property full of tropical fruit trees bursting with fresh fruit (papayas, grape fruits, oranges, lemons, limes) and a super huge garden that all guests were allowed to raid at will. He had a bunk house with dorm style beds and a few double-bed room. He also had a bunch of campsites. I opted for a campsite, and since I didn’t have a tent, I just slept with my sleeping bag on top of a tarp under the shade of a mango tree and the stars! We had free use of the kitchen – and cooked out own dinner of fresh beets and kale from garden, with rice, salsa, tomatoes, avocados and tortillas we picked up from a small store in town.
Days 5-6: My friend Jim from New Mexico and I opted to move into a clean and simple hotel room right in the heart of town. Staying at Keith’s was nice but we realize that sleeping on the floor would get old after a few more nights. We got a room with two double beds and a private bathroom at what was dubbed “the nicest hotel in Urique” for 300 pesos per night (less than 30 dollars).
The next two days featured hikes of the entire course, led by Caballo. You might be thinking…”Hey, isn’t it crazy to hike the entire course in the days before running 50 miles?” The answer is absolutely yes!!! Which is why I chose not to do the hikes :). Others did do the hikes, covering 18 miles one day (first major loop of the course) and 22 miles another day (second major loop of the course). The last 10 miles were a repeat of part the first loop and they skipped that. A second reason why I didn’t do the hikes is that I was feeling incredibly sick the day after our hike into Urique. I was massively dehydrated and had a raging headache most of the night. I opted to lay-low and rehydrated. I went out for a 20 minute run in the heat to help acclimatize on each day instead. After a couple of days I felt back to normal.
Day 7: Rest, eat, sleep! This was a true day off. The town was buzzing with energy as Raramuri hiked in from all over the canyon. More gringo’s arrived and it was fun just walking around town and meeting people. I led a little impromptu yoga class in the town square which was fun. We had an audience of Raramuri watching us!
The course featured three loops of 18, 22 and 10 miles – that all begin and end right in the heart of town. In terms of course severity – the overall conditions made it by far the most challenging terrain I have ever run on. Technical trails. Rocky dirty roads that made it tough to run fast even on the flats or downhills. Searing heat (it was over 90 degrees for most of the course, and probably hit 100 in certain spots). Some crazy long and steep climbing. That said, many other gringos who were veteran racers of 100 and 50 mile ultras said the course wasn’t that bad as far as 50-milers go, and that the total elevation change wasn’t super hard (9,000 ft total climbing). It’s all in the eye of the beholder I guess :).
Loop 1: The 18 mile loop had a 10 mile out of back along a dirt road (note: all dirty roads here are riddled with rocks, they aren’t nice and smooth roads like we have in the USA!). This stretch had a bunch of “death hills” (as Caballo likes to call them). The next 3-5 miles was an epic climb on technical single-track up a mountain followed by a winding and long descent on a dirt road back into town.
Loop 2: The 22 mile loop to Los Alisos features a long flat 6 mile stretch on dirt roads before climbing brutally up the side of a mountain for several miles. This part of the course is very hot and exposed with little shade. After hitting an aid station 11 miles in, you turn around and run back!
Loop 3: The final 10 mile repeats the out and back “death hills” from the first loop.
The weather for the entire week of the race was hotter than normal, and race day looked to be the same. Hydration would be super important.
My gear was as follows:
Lululemon lightweight top
Lululemon running/yoga shorts (they have a liner….eliminates chaffing)
Bodyglide – use all over or suffer!
Amphipod 22oz handheld bottle
Amphipod waist belt with 2 x 10oz bottles and pouch for food/electrolyte tabs
Hammer gel flask – holds 500 calories of gel
Inov-8 Roclite 295 trail shoes
Ironman triathlon socks
Medical tape (I tape my pinky and big toes to prevent blisters)
Orange flavored Hammer gel bottle (big one) – use this to refill gel flask after each loop
Nuun electrolyte tablets – 9 tablets
Hammer Endurolytes tablets – 10 tablets
Cliff Shot Bloks – two packages
Cliff Bars – a couple in my drop bag just in case
During the race I planned to consume 250 calories per hour and I came in just under that in actuality. I took in 2500 calories total during race day, which was OK given that I was moving so slow for the last 10 miles. I was never really hungry during the race, and afterwards I was so tired I skipped dinner and fell asleep at 7:30pm! Not being hungry is a sign that I took in enough calories, though I was probably under hydrated a little.
I carried 40 ounces of water with me (handheld bottle and waist belt), with 1 Nuun tablet in the handheld bottle and the other bottles just plain. I carried Nuun with me and dropped 1 tablet in my handheld each time I refilled it (about 1 time per hour). I took 6 Endurolytes during the race – at random times and gave some tabs out to Raramuri that I saw cramping. A key strategy for me was to dump at least 10 ounces of water on my head and back every hour if possible. When I saw an aid station, I immediately emptied my bottled on myself before refilling. This strategy totally saved me from imploding due to the heat.
My calorie consumption was as follows
Loop 1 – 18 miles – 500 calories of gel, 200 calories of shot blocks, a ~3 banana halves, 5-6 orange quarters and 2 cups of pinole (ground corn mixed with water) at aid stations
Loop 2 – 22 miles – ditto
Loop 3 – 10 miles – 500 calories gel, 1 banana and 2 pieces of orange
My feet had zero blisters, which other folks found hard to believe while chatting afterwards. I’ve always had pretty resilient feet and been blister free for most of my running life. Also, the Inov-8 Roclite shoes are incredible and wrapping my toes in tape (it stayed on for the first 35 miles) helped for sure.
Guadaloupe Coronado and the Big Climb (~18 miles) aka “if you aren’t awake you will be now!”
Mile 1: The race start was 6:45am. The Raramuri are known for going out incredibly fast. It was crazy to see about 100 people take off sprinting as if they were running a 5K! The experienced runners (Raramuri included) stayed in the mid pack and waiting for the carnage to take place during the first major climb. I went out nice and easy as we cruised the flat paved road through town and onto a very rocky dirt road with mild rollers for the first mile.
Miles 2-5: We hit some major hills. Caballo calls them “death hills”. They aren’t that bad by themselves, but in cumulative they will crush you. At this point in the race I start walking anything that even smells like a hill! Some folks try to run even the long hills…I don’t know what they are thinking! The weather stays pretty cool and there are quite a few aid stations…about 1 every 2 miles or so.
Mile 6-8: We hit a turnaround point and retrace out steps. I notice that a lot of the locals are cutting the course! They are taking small trails that veer off the road and re-join the road later on. They aren’t saving that much time…maybe a quarter-mile at most, so I ignore it. The way I see it, I get to use my technical gear and they get to use home field advantage of local trails 🙂 .
I really begin to feel that this course if harder than I thought. The footing is tough even on the dirt road, with tons of large and small rocks and sections with soft dirt/sand. It’s super tiring on my feet and lower legs. I start to get concerned about my ability to finish.
Miles 9-13: Turning off the dirt road, the technical single-track and climbing begins. I walk a ton of this…since we climb for what seems like forever. A bunch of people pass me…and then the field thins out a bit. There are no aid stations on the climb. I’m glad I brought both a water bottle in my hand and two 10 ounces bottles in my waist belt. I am pretty sure I’m not going to finish this race…I am just not in good enough shape and my legs are dead.
Miles 13-15: Finally…an aid station! I grab some oranges and some strange “bags” filled with water. They are like the milk bags we used in school, only filled with water or a Mexican sports drink called “Zuca.” I grab one bag and bite the end, squeezing the water in my mouth. I grab a few more and squeeze them into my water bottles. I grab a few oranges and a cup of pinole. Wow, that pinole is good stuff! The route descents down a twisting dirt road. At times the road is too steep for me to run comfortably, so I sadly walk parts of the downhill.
Mile 16: I round a corner and smell like someone is smoking a joint…a big a strong one. I look to the right and left and see no one in the fields. I keep running downhill and catch up to two young kids (they may have been Raramuri or local Urique boys, not sure) who have been racing since the start, they were about 1/2 mile ahead of me most of the race running in jeans, cotton t-shirts and sandals! They looked like they were 12 years old at most. I then notice they are passing a joint back and forth…I laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of being out-run by two young kids in jeans and flip-flops smoking a joint. I can’t make that up if I tried.
Miles 17-18: Reality sets in about how hard this course is. Caballo Blanco passes me with a big smile on his face and some words of encouragement. He is running light and smooth. I am assuming at this point that I am not finishing the race. My legs are totally trashed half-way down the descent and my feet really are super tired from all the rocks. Regardless, I need to run back to town so I continue on and feel better as we enter back into town to complete this big loop. I head to my drop-bag and refill my Hammer Gel flask and grab some more Nuun and Endurolytes. I decide to start the next loop and see what happens.
Los Olisos Out and Back Loop (~22 miles) aka “a run through the blast furnace”
Miles 19-25: I feel very good during the flat to slightly rolling stretch through the Urique river valley. I pass quite a few people, including a few “gringo’s” that were starting to feel the heat as the temperatures were climbing into the 90’s by now. There were several places to take aid and I enjoyed some banana pieces at each along with 2-3 orange wedges and a cup of pinole. I ran about 80% of this stretch, only walking a few of the bigger hills.
Miles 26-29: After crossing a suspension footbridge I begin the climb to the grapefruit orchards of Los Olisos. The temperature is climbing rapidly and I estimate that is hits at least 100 in this part of the course. The landscape turns into a moonscape devoid of much vegetation as I climb the steep trails. Footing is tough and the trail is narrow. I really struggle just to hike this section. Runners are going both directions on this trail and there are steep drop-offs at some points. I dumb water on my head all the time to stay cool. I’m diligent about taking Endurolyte tablets or dropping Nuun in my bottles. I pass out Endurolytes to a Raramuri who appears to be cramping badly. He is very thankful.
At one point I hit a steep and narrow part of the trail with a cliff on one side and a rock wall on the other. I’m trying to go one direction and runners are coming back at me in the other direction….and a Burro is also trying to navigate the trail amidst all the chaos. I go spread eagle against the cliff until the Burro saunters by and I continue on. Only in Mexico!
Miles 30-33: Hitting the turn-around point I am totally out of water. I ran out long ago and am very dehydrated. I drop some iodine tablets (thanks Mark!) into my bottles and refills at the one aid station (the water was from a nearby spring since they couldn’t carry bottled or bagged water up this trail). I laugh at the sight of the station being manned by a couple big security dudes carrying M16’s! I devour some oranges and carry on back down the mountain slowly. I am super tired and still worried about just finishing. Looking around though, I am inspired by the Raramuri, persisting with little gear or fuel – I keep moving on.
Miles 34-40: Completing the descent I retraced the flat section back to Urique, which is suddenly much tougher than on the way out! My feet are incredibly tired and I run about 50% of this section. I can’t believe that I am walking flat and even some downhill sections but nothing I can do about that. The weather is burning hot. I dump water on my head to keep cool at every chance I get. I run the last mile back into town and hit my drop bag for a refill of Hammer Gel and water. Looking at my watch I realize that no matter what I will finish this course, even if I have to crawl. I have enough time even if I end up needing to walk the last part of the course.
Guadaloupe Coronado Out and Back Loop (~11 miles) aka “death hills”
Miles 41-45: I run out-of-town for a few miles. I see people running the opposite direction towards the finish line. These folks are completing in about 9-10 hours. I’m very jealous! I see some friends and that is cool. Once I hit the first small climb I start walking again, and find running next to impossible. Ever little hill has become a death hill. Caballo was right!
Miles 46-50: It takes absolutely forever to get the turnaround point. All my energy goes into maintaining forward motion and the sun starts to go down and the weather cools. There are fewer people out on the course so there is less to distract me. I’m walking and walking slow. No more power hiking. I try running occasionally and it’s super painful. My friend Bookis rolls up next to me and that motivates me to jog again. We stay together through the turnaround, where I take aid. I tell Bookis (he ran the entire race in Luna sandals!)to not hang with me since I’m not capable of running any more. I continue walking most of the next few miles, and the darkness comes quickly. By mile 49 it is almost pitch black, with just the stars and moon out. I hit a dirt road and occasional trucks passing by force to move to the edge of the road to avoid becoming roadkill. They help to light my way. At one point I almost impale myself on a bull cow that happened to be standing in the middle of the dirt road…lucky for me I heard it’s moo in time!
Mile 50-51: I see the lights of Urique and run back into town. I actually feel a lot better now. Amazing how seeing the finish provides a great burst of energy! There were tons of people in the village, and they were having a finish/awards ceremony on a stage in the town square. There was no post-race tent or food stuff given out. In fact, when I finished it took a few seconds to even find one of the race volunteers to tell him I finished! Surprisingly, instead of him telling me my time he asked me what my time was! I was too tired to talk so showed him my watch, he wrote it down and said good job. 12:32:01. Several hours longer than I thought it would take, but no matter, I finished! I saw some other gringo friends: some recently finished and laying on the sidewalk in recovery while others had been done for hours. I gave some high five’s, took a photo and stumbed about 100 yards back to my hotel room, where my roommate was resting (he got food poisoning and didn’t race).
The Long Journey Home
The morning after the race we said goodbye to friends departing via bus, and then piled into our van for the long and hair-raising climb out of Urique Canyon via a 90 minute twisting dirt road winding its way up the mountainsides. We had an overnight stop in the small Mexican town of Cuatemoc before continuing on to El Paso. My flight home became more interesting when I missed my connection in Denver (after sprinting across the entire terminal!), resulting in another overnight stay! I finally arrive back home safe and sound.
This Copper Canyon experience is one I’ll never forget. I’m already planning on returning next year.
I’m going to expand on the first principle I stated in Part I, that I think the outcome for endurance events are more driven by factors beyond raw fitness than of fitness itself. Nutrition, mental focus, pacing, gear and other factors are just as (if not more important) than how high your VO2 max or lactate threshold is.
Let me explain. In my last 50K race, The North Face Endurance Challenge in Marin Headlands, I was never once out of breath on the course. However, I clearly suffered greatly and my result did not reflect my fitness. How could this be? Simple. I did the following things:
I went out way too fast, running the first 8-10 miles about 10-15% faster than I should have. It didn’t feel that way during the run, but in hindsight this was the case.
I bonked hardcore after 16 miles. I hit mile 16 having consumed a couple gels and a few pieces of banana and boiled potato. This might seem enough calories, but given the course severity it took almost 3 hours to get this far and that was way too few calories. Also, given I was running faster than normal my caloric burn rate was far higher than normal training.
I had terrible shoes for this course. I wore Mizuno Waverider running shoes. They are lightweight training shoes, meant for smooth pavement. I also wore them for the Ron Herzog 50K and realized they weren’t great on trails, but I didn’t remedy the problem. I was slipping and sliding all over, given how wet and muddy the North Face course was. Footing was a real issue during the race. I would slow down my pace at times and it just took way too much mental energy to focus on where my feet were going.
I ran carrying a single water bottle. Big mistake, as I slowed down in the second half of the race, I would run out of water/calories between aid stations and just suffer. Rookie mistake. I should have carried two bottles or used a hipflask system. Had I not bonked I would have been fine with 1 bottle, but the slower pace after mile 16 meant I was running/walking slow and needed more fuel between aid stations.
I wore a great Gore-Tex running jacked which kept my upper body warm, but my legs were freezing cold given the rain and the fact that I slowed so much. Studies show that cold muscled perform worse – far worse – than warm muscles. My legs were frozen for most of the race. This was of course exacerbated by my bonking and slower pace after mile 16.
Had I addressed these things by wearing appropriate clothing, using proper trail shoes, carrying more fuel and starting out more slowly (and using walk breaks early on); the result surely would have been very different! Live and learn! Addressing the non-fitness related variables has a big impact on race day. The longer you plan to go, my opinion is the more these other things count. Especially, bad footwear can easily take someone out of commission in an ultra-marathon (a bad blister or foot issue can bring down the toughest runner!). Same goes with an incorrect fueling strategy.
Will continue this multi-part post later.
Going for a 90 minute run on some flat dirt trails today. I trail tested my new Inov-8 Roclite 295’s yesterday. They are too small…back to the store they go!
Yesterday I did my longest and toughest run ever, the Ron Herzog 50K (which ended up being around 32 miles, a little more than 50K). I stumbled upon it a week ago while looking for trail runs online and decided to give it a shot. This is a small race and when I showed up it seemed like a lot of the participants knew each other. I think around 50 people were there. The race FREE….with suggested $25 donation to support the ALS association in honor of Ron Herzog, an ultra runner who died of the disease.
Yesterday was my second 5K running race in the past month, following up on the Furry 5K.
I’m slowly gaining fitness, with 3-4 runs per week, each roughly 30 minutes in length or so. I’m also practicing yoga 3-4 days per week, lifting weights at least twice a week and assisting at my yoga studio another two times per week.
The Run of The Mill 5K, in Mill Creek, WA was a great event. The course was mostly flat and on paved roads and walking paths. The event is becoming popular with the attendance of around 1400 runners almost doubling the turnout from last year’s event.
There were also some stellar runners in the field, attracted by prize money for the top 3 overall male and female finishers. In fact, seven runners who competed in the Olympic Trials showed up!
My time of 21:50 was a full 2 minutes faster than my race three weeks ago, but still well off my PR of 18-flat. I am happy to see the big progress in a short period of time.
Overall, my fitness is great, but the cardiovascular strength will take more time to come along. I also had this weird cramping/tightening feeling in my back that slowed me a bit. I am pretty sure it was from a vigorous yoga workout (with lots of handstands) the day before.
I might race another 5K next weekend just for the heck of it.
Below are a few videos taken from the race, including interviews with the winners.
Vanessa Hunter – Women’s Winner (Ran Olympic Trials in the Marathon)
Mike Sayenko – Men’s Winner (Ran Olympic Trials in the Marathon)